‘Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter’ a murky, joyless hunt
By Christy Lemire The Associated Press June 27, 2012 3:32PM
Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Stars: Benjamin Walker, Rufus Sewell and Dominic Cooper
Genre: Action, Fantasy, Horror
Rated: R for violence throughout and brief sexuality
Running time: 1 hour and 45 minutes
Updated: July 29, 2012 5:03PM
“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”: Those four words, strung together in that order, sound like a lot of fun; don’t they?
It’s a totally ridiculous premise, this notion that the 16th U.S. president lived a whole nother secret life, prowling about at night, seeking out bloodsuckers.
But it’s a creative one, and it should have provided the basis for a freewheeling, campy good time.
Unfortunately, director Timur Bekmambetov and writer Seth Grahame-Smith, adapting his own best-selling novel, take this concept entirely too seriously.
What ideally might have been playful and knowing is instead uptight and dreary, with a visual scheme that’s so fake and cartoony that it depletes the film of any sense of danger.
Bekmambetov — the Kazakhstan-born director whose 2008 action hit “Wanted” was such a stylish, sexy thrill — weirdly stages set pieces that are muddled and hard to follow.
There is a horse stampede, for example, or the climactic brawl aboard a runaway train.
The murky (and needless) 3-D conversion doesn’t help matters, and it’s a waste of what was probably some lovely cinematography from five-time Oscar nominee Caleb Deschanel.
Bekmambetov also keeps going back to some of the same gimmicky uses of 3-D including slo-mo slashings and beheadings that send black vampire blood spurting from the screen.
The repetition of this trick produces the same numbing effect that it had in Tarsem Singh Dhandwar’s “Immortals” in 2011.
The tall, lanky Benjamin Walker certainly looks the part as the title character (he also looks distractingly like a young Liam Neeson, and actually played a younger version of Neeson in 2004’s “Kinsey”).
But there’s no oomph to Walker’s performance, no “there” there.
He doesn’t exude any confidence or charisma, either as he becomes increasingly skilled in vanquishing his foes or as he succeeds in wooing the sophisticated (and engaged) Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead).
And once he becomes the Lincoln we actually know — with the beard and the hat and that big, famous speech — it merely feels like he’s playing dress-up rather than embodying the spirit of a towering historical figure.
His story begins in childhood when, according to this revisionist lore, Lincoln’s mother was killed by a vampire before his very eyes.
He seeks revenge as an adult, but doesn’t know exactly what he’s doing or with whom he’s dealing.
Enter veteran vampire hunter Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper), a debauched and flamboyant Brit who helps him hone the tools he’ll need but who has an ulterior motive of his own.
(Even the training montage, a staple of any movie about a warrior’s transformation, feels oddly restrained.)
After wielding his silver-tipped ax on some practice targets — these evil fiends roam all around us, you know — Lincoln is finally ready to take on his nemeses: vampire businessman Jack Barts (Marton Csokas) and the genteel Southerner Adam (Rufus Sewell), who’s sort of the king of Vampire Nation.
(Lincoln gets some help from Anthony Mackie as his childhood friend and Jimmi Simpson as the shopkeeper Lincoln worked for in Springfield.)
At the same time, Lincoln’s kinda thinking he might want to jump into politics during this tumultuous time in America.
So you have this intensifying struggle between humans and the living dead playing out against the backdrop of the North and South on the brink of Civil War.
The notion that the horrors of slavery should be placed on a parallel with monster horror as entertainment is really rather distasteful.
This is punctuated by the sight of vampires getting gored on a battlefield with Lincoln delivering the Gettysburg Address in the background.
But that’s nothing compared with the line about being late for the theater that Mrs. Lincoln hollers at her husband toward the end.
Even when “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” finally gives in and tries to loosen up, it gets it all wrong.